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Fundamental Keys to Becoming a Good Team

Terry Schroeder
US National Men's Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics

Volume 3 Number 4January 15, 2011
The Keyword in Real Estate is Location and the Keyword in the sport of Water Polo is Fundamentals!

It still amazes me to see how many times a less talented team actually beats a seemingly superior team. This happens in all team sports and it occurs even in championship games.  This is something that I love about our sport.  Water Polo is a great team sport and to be successful you have to have a real team. Building a team is an interesting concept. It certainly does not happen overnight.  It is a journey and it takes time together.  In 2008, during our first training camp with the USA team we did a team building activity with the Navy Seals.  It was not exactly fun for our guys but they learned a great deal about themselves. They also learned to respect the Navy Seals who take our idea of team and magnify it 100 times.  These guys are truly awesome.  As they protect our country they work together as a team in a life or death situation.  They truly care about each other to the point where they will lay their life down for one another.   Our leader that day was a Seal trainer named Lieutenant Junior Grade Andy Stumpf.  In our debriefing before we performed the exercise Andy said something that has really stuck with me as a coach.  He said “I could stand up here and tell you what it means to be a team or what it takes to be a team, however that would be fruitless because the only way that you become a true team is to experience it together” This is so true so as I outline some of the keys to becoming a great team remember that the only way to really make it happen is to experience it together.  Enjoy the journey.

Here are some of my keys to building a great team. 

First and foremost you need to have athletes and coaches that care.  They care about each other and they care about the outcome.  Team is defined by caring.  If the athletes or the coaches don’t care about each other you really don’t have a team.  When everyone cares about the other players on the team as much as he cares about himself then you have the basis for team work.  Caring builds love and this is critical to have success together.

Another important component of a team is dependability.  You need athletes and coaches that show up on time, work hard together and do the right thing in and out of the water consistently.  Dependability builds trust on a team.  When you can count on each other day in and day out then you trust each other and the environment is ripe for success.

The third building block is unselfishness.  This is the ability to sacrifice a bit of yourself for the good of the team.  These are the players that are not really interested in the individual stats.  They know that the scoreboard tells the story at the end of the game.  Staying focused on winning together is a big key.  Unselfish players enjoy passing and making the assist as much as scoring.  These players are truly happy for their team mates when they earn an award or get their name in the paper.  There is no jealousy involved with unselfishness.  Unselfishness builds respect. 

I would consider these the big three of team work.  No team can consistently be successful without caring which leads to love, dependability which creates trust and unselfishness which builds respect. 

On my list of honorable mention just outside the top three would be tolerance.  This is really about respecting each others differences.  Each of us is different and what makes us tick is different.  The best team players understand and respect their team mate’s idiosyncrasies. The easy thing to do is to gossip and make fun of someone because they are different.  This absolutely destroys the team.  When you respect these differences it is much easier to work hard for each other and praise each other.  Another part of tolerance is the ability to forgive your team mates.  We are human and we all make mistakes.  Don’t put yourself above your team mates.  Realize that mistakes will be made but instead of criticizing your team mate cover for each other.  Try pointing out the good things your team mates do rather than the mistakes they make. 

It is very interesting to me that after having played and coached the game for over 35 years now, I can make this observation with a great deal of certainty.  The way an athlete plays and competes is more than often the way they live their life.  If they are a risk taker in the pool they are often a risk taker in life.  If they are very conservative in the pool they are often conservative in life.  It is amazing when you step back and look at this correlation.  So in conclusion, I will say this.  As a coach, I want to have athletes on my team that live by the golden rule – treat others as you would like to be treated. If an athlete understands this concept they will be a better team mate.  They will also usually be a better person and an easier player to coach or play with. 

Once again, I appreciate all the comments and questions that I receive.  Please feel free to email me at [email protected] with all your comments and questions.  I look forward to hearing from you.

See you at the pool,

Coach Schroeder

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